Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau picked him for minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard with one reason in mind.
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"You know what he said, he wanted me in that portfolio just to remind all Canadians that we have a third ocean," Tootoo said Wednesday afternoon following a swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
"That needs to be represented and brought to the table."
Wearing a red sealskin tie and bracelet, Tootoo became the second Inuk to be appointed as a senior federal cabinet minister following former Conservative Leona Aglukkaq.
"We were so excited to see this happen and so proud of our son," said Tootoo's mother, Sally Luttmer, who was at Rideau Hall when her son was sworn in.
"We know he is going to have to work very hard and he doesn't slow down. He won't give up when he takes something on."
Tootoo's appointment signals to the rest of the world that Canada is taking its role in the Arctic seriously, according to Michael Byers, the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.
"Canada has the longest coastline of any country mostly because of the 19,000 Arctic islands that exist in Nunavut and it is therefore our longest and arguably our most difficult coastline and one that needs a minister that fully understands that fact."
Coast Guard 'essential' in the Arctic
Byers also notes that the second part of Tootoo's portfolio – the Canadian Coast Guard – should not be overlooked,
"The role of the Canadian Coast Guard in the Arctic is absolutely essential," he said.
"It's important to have a minister who can champion that agency, who can ensure that there are new icebreakers, who can address the difficult question which needs to be addressed right now as to whether the Harper government's planned construction of light ice-strength Arctic offshore patrol ships is indeed the best use of $5 billion or whether two or three or four new Coast Guard icebreakers would provide much better value for money."
Former prime minister Stephen Harper announced plans to purchase six to eight Arctic offshore patrol ships in 2007. The plan was labelled a 'disaster' in a 50-page report by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
DFO portfolio wide-ranging
The Fisheries and Oceans ministry covers a range of issues from ports to the sealing industry, a contentious issue in the Atlantic provinces and in Nunavut, where Inuit hunters have suffered due to the European Union's ban on seal products.
The director of the Magdalen Island Seal Hunters Association, says it could take decades to reconquer European markets.
"Having decades of that sort of attitude, it's really discouraging for any seal hunter because you see that the real will of going forward is nonexistent really," said Gil Thériault.
"We certainly hope it's going to change with Mr. Tootoo."
Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said Tootoo's appointment could help out the territory's emerging industry. Nunavut has a growing shrimp and turbot industry in Baffin Bay, as well as numerous smaller fisheries being researched across the territory.
"It's great, it's fantastic, it's growing and there is still room to improve that and it will be great for Nunavummiut and create a lot of employment," said Taptuna.
Nunavut is also looking for ways to expand opportunities for seal harvesters in Nunavut.
"There's a niche there and we hope to expand, find those markets and have Nunavummiut seal harvesters benefit from that."
Randy Pittman is also hoping it could translate into more work in the territory. The coordinating instructor with the Nunavut Fisheries and Marine Training Consortium says there's a lack of resources, but lots of people willing to work.
"We're training all these young fishermen now and I hope, hopefully we'll have more quotas and more resources out here to access and more employment for Nunavut," said Pittman.